ST. LOUIS COUNTY — The old Tower Tee is gone, but a new one is on the way.
The developer who planned to build 180 homes at Tower Tee in Affton has agreed to sell the property to buyers who intend to preserve it as a golf and baseball complex.
Steve Walkenbach, a native of Affton who now lives in Arizona, said he and Mike Shamia, a longtime friend and business partner, will create a brand-new facility that preserves the legacy of Tower Tee while also providing a contemporary experience for patrons.
“It is our hope that the St. Louis community grows to love and support the new golf, baseball/softball training and recreational complex just as they did Tower Tee of old,” Shamia said. “This project will be an exciting and sentimental journey for both of us.”
After the facility is redeveloped, Shamia will oversee day-to-day operations of the complex.
The goal is to open the new Tower Tee in fall 2020.
A joint venture of McBride homes and J.H. Berra Construction closed in February on the original Tower Tee with the intention of building houses, saying they would consider using part of the 28-acre property for a public park. But McBride said the firms would wait until St. Louis County Council member Lisa Clancy held a series of town hall meetings before submitting plans to the county.
McBride’s plan would have required a zoning change approved by the County Council from commercial to residential. But that was unlikely to occur for at least several months, with two vacancies on the council and Councilman Mark Harder, a McBride employee, saying he would not vote on the plan.
Clancy on Monday said McBride CEO John Eilermann realized there was substantial resistance in the Affton area to developing Tower Tee, and that when a buyer emerged, “I let them know that a development that was like Tower Tee would definitely have my support.”
In a statement Monday, Eilermann said, “We committed that if a bonafide buyer came forward, we would step aside. We are happy that Steve and Mike fit that mold, and are excited to see their new plans unfold while we step away and let them pursue this endeavor.”
When Tower Tee’s demise was announced, nearby residents rallied to preserve the attraction and oppose the housing development.
Leading that effort was resident Michael Burton, who gathered signatures from surrounding landowners to trigger a provision in state law that would have required a supermajority of the County Council — five members instead of just four — to approve a zoning change.
“I’m just so happy,” Burton said Monday evening. “I’m proud of our community. This is the way democracy is supposed to work.”
Burton, who grew up walking to the driving range with his dad and still lives in the neighborhood, said he and other members fighting to save Tower Tee haven’t missed a Tuesday night County Council meeting in at least 45 weeks.
“It’s pretty easy to fight for a place like Tower Tee,” he said.
The buyer emerged after reading about Tower Tee and the residents’ efforts to save it in the newspaper. That came shortly after McBride issued a news release saying it was Burton’s “last chance” and gave supporters 30 days to raise $4.76 million to buy the property.
“Naturally, my gut instinct told me paying a premium for the land, on paper, probably did not make a lot of sense. It made sense for a home developer, but maybe not so much sense for a driving range,” Walkenbach said in a statement.
Walkenbach met Shamia over 20 years ago at the former Scottrade Financial Services, which was acquired in 2017 by TD Ameritrade. He worked at a subsidiary of financial tech company Scivantage and has been married to Scottrade founder Rodger Riney’s daughter, Pam, for 25 years.
‘We are thrilled’
The original Tower Tee announced plans to close in November 2017 after Tegna Inc., the parent company of KSDK (Channel 5), terminated its lease on the property. Tegna had put the site up for sale in September.
Tegna allowed Tower Tee to continue to use the site on a month-to-month basis until early July 2018. An auction of items, held July 9, attracted buyers like Blueberry Hill founder Joe Edwards, who paid $700 for a blue rhinoceros that had been part of the Tower Tee miniature golf course.
Tower Tee was founded in 1963 by Roy Lotz, a head carpenter at Forest Park’s Highlands Amusement Park. The complex remained under Lotz family management until it was closed.
“The Lotz family could not have handpicked two finer individuals to entrust with the continuation of the Tower Tee story,” former Tower Tee owner Steve Lotz said in a statement. “We are thrilled.”
Past visitors to the Tee include Bob Hope, Bob Costas and Joe Buck.
On social media, people reacted to news that the Tower Tee site would reopen with delight. (tncms-asset)9dad4c86-7b58-11e9-bd66-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)b8f3c100-7b58-11e9-99bd-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)09e75036-7b59-11e9-a671-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)